Sunday, January 24, 2016

Marvel Visionaries : John Romita, the Daddy

Since Today is the 86th birthday of John Romita I wanted to continue my posts about the oversized MARVEL VISIONARY hardcovers from the 2000s.

Like I said in previous installments one of the reasons why I want to write about these books is that the prices for comics have seriously gone up in the last years especially any series that is connected - or people believe is connected - to movies. Especially with Disney making the jump to 4.99 for their books pretty soon this topic is more important than ever.

Because if you are a fan of John Romita´s AMAZING SPIDER - MAN issues there is an omnibus, several MASTER MASTERWORKS and ESSENTIALS out as well as two ARTIST`S EDITIONs for those who prefer black and white.

But except for the ESSENTIALS those books will cost you an arm and a leg and the ESSENTIALS are not in color. There are very few trades out there from this stuff and the ones that exist collect issues from all over the series. And with Disney doing the omnibus books the only chance for a paperback will be the Epic Collections which are not exactly cheap.

Okay, the MARVEL VISIONARIES : JOHN ROMITA SR book is not really a cheap book with its cover price of 29.99 dollars but for that you get an oversized hardcover with 336 glossy pages which is almost three times the page count of what you get in a regular 24.99 hardcover from Disney nowadays. What´s more, because there is no buzz about these books you can get them at a good price. I got my copy from the new and used books section at amazon for 14 bucks and I just checked : right now you can get it for 10 EUR and that includes shipping and handling. So this is doable. 

Now the color restoration is not as good as in the MARVEL MASTERWORKS and the printing on some of the issues in the MARVEL VISIONARIES books is not so good but all the issues in this book are good or even terrific.

Speaking about the issues, like with the previous books the selection in this book can be odd at first glance but you have to keep in mind that the makers of the book tried to strike a balance between what has already been reprinted in other books, what are important issues and what are absolutely indispensable issues. Like in the MARVEL VISIONARIES : CHRIS CLAREMONT book they had to include The Death of Jean Grey because not only is it the best X - Men story ever written it is one of THE best comic book stories period. And you can´t do a book that is supposed to be a retrospective of Chris Claremont´s work without including this. So in the same way the John Romita Sr book collects some indispensable comics, some important issues he has worked on and some other oddities. And speaking about oddities we start the book with some of John Romita´s pre - Marvel work with the stories It ! from STRANGE TALES 4 and Flying Saucer ! from MENACE 6, followed by two Captain America stories from YOUNG MEN 24 and 25, I, The Robot ! from MENACE 11 - with the killer robot M11 who ended up in AGENTS OF ATLAS - and WESTERN KID 12.

Next we enter the Marvel age with a Hulk story from TALES TO ASTONISH 77 and a Captain America story from TALES OF SUSPENSE 77. The art in these stories is already much different than in the preceding issues and you can already see much of his style in issues 16 and 17 of DAREDEVIL, the first time he drew Spider - Man. This story was a test run for Stan Lee who wanted to see how John Romita Sr handled the character.

In the issues there is the usual Marvel misunderstanding where the heroes end up fighting each other during which Daredevil gives Spider - Man the slip. Which is not such a great idea because Spider - Man follows him to the law offices of Nelson & Murdock where he uncovers Daredevil´s secret identity : Foggy Nelson ! What ? Come on, his spider sense tells him that Daredevil is there and it can´t possibly be the girl or the blind man, duh. 

Today John Romita is the artist most comic fans from my generation associate with Spider - Man ( with Today´s generation it´s probably somebody like Humberto Ramos, Ryan Stegman or Giuseppe Camuncoli ) but when he started on the book he was hoping it would not work out.

He didn´t believe somebody would leave a title that was as successful as AMAZING SPIDER - MAN so he still tried to draw in Steve Ditko´s style in issues 39 and 40, the first Spider - Man issues here which are classic stories. Besides being the regular artist for the title John Romita also did most of the covers for this period of which many have become iconic covers in pop culture that have been homaged over and over again.

If you have read any of the posts on this blog about My Spider - Man you know that while I also had read all of Steve Ditko´s Spider - Man the one I really loved was John Romita´s version. His Spider - Man was heroic and imposing, not as creepy and weird as Ditko´s version and his women - oh my god - it made you want to get into the comic books to ask them out.

Anyway, that was MY Spider - Man with Mary Jane as a go go dancer, the Kingpin as a major Spider - Man villain, the Prowler ( who was designed by John Romita Jr ) but most of all the maggia villains like Hammerhead, Silverman and Manmountain Marko ( his german name Menschenberg always sounded too much like Meatball to me ). One of my favorite stories from that period is The Stone Tablet Saga from issues 68 to 75.

I don´t remember everything from those issues but the gist of it is that the Kingpin and Silvio " Silvermane " Manfredi - who was first introduced in these issues - are after a mysterious stone tablet that is on display in Peter Parker´s high school. During a student riot which introduces Robbie Robertson´s son Randy the stone tablet is stolen by the Kingpin´s goons which is just the start of endless turns in which Spider - Man has to battle one villain after another because of another misunderstanding with the press or to get the stone tablet back. In the finale Silvermane finally gets hold of the stone tablet and kidnaps Doctor Curt Connors to decipher it.

As it turns out the stone tablet holds the secret formula of eternal youth and Doctor Connors is forced to make a serum for Silvermane who is restored to his former youth and then goes off to settle some scores.

This leads to an epic free - for - all brawl between Spider - Man, the Lizard, Man Mountain Marko, Silvermane and dozen of his goons during which Silvermane keeps getting younger until there´s nothing left of him.

It´s one of the stories that shows what´s so great about the Spider - Man series with the return of the Kingpin as a force to be reckoned with, the introduction of new characters, more gangsters and hoodlums than you can shake a stock at, the Kingpin " outing " Spider - Man as his partner in crime, Spider - Man threatening John Jonah Jameson who gets a heart attack because of this, Quicksilver trying to arrest Spider - Man to prove his worth to the Avengers and all kind of melodrama. On top of that you have political problems with the student riots, something that was not that common in comics at that time and the father son conflict between Robbie and his son Randy ( I bet Randy Robertson was Robbie´s nickname during his college years ) which is not only a generational conflict but Randy also calls his father an Uncle Tom because he works for Whitey.

Anyway, because the sheer volume of this story would have totalled this book which is supposed to be about John Romita´s work none of the issues have been included here. I would have liked to re - read the story but I can support Marvel´s decision not to include some stories out of context. Instead they chose to go with single issues and two issue arcs.

Like AMAZING SPIDER - MAN 39 and 40 which had the final confrontation between Spider - Man and the Green Goblin. Well, at that time it was the final confrontation but later on they brought him back a few times even from the dead. In the story not only does the Green Goblin kidnap Spider - Man and discover his secret identity the readers also for the first time saw the face beneath the Goblin Mask which was none other than Norman Osborn, the father of Peter Parker´s classmate Norman Osborn. This was eleven years before the first STAR WARS movie came out so the whole " I´m your friend´s father, Peter " thing was a real shocker for the readers. 

Next up is issue 42, not so much for the main story but because of the famous last page that introduced the character of Mary Jane Watson.

Speaking about famous pages, the next AMAZING SPIDER - MAN issue in this collection is number 50, Spider - Man No More ! which not only has one of the most iconic covers ever. The splash page with Peter Parker´s costume in the trashcan is one of the best known pages in Spider - Man lore. I have already done a DEJA VUE post on it but there is enough material for a second one ( you can see some new versions here ).

After this we get issues 105 and 106 of FANTASTIC FOUR as these are the only two issues of the title John Romita has drawn. I already had those issues as part of the MASTER MASTERWORK which collects The Overmind Saga so I would have been content if they had just skipped this but I understand that they want to include issues from different series.

John Romita also did issues 138 to 141 on CAPTAIN AMERICA when the book changed it´s title to CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE FALCON and this collection includes issue 138. Besides these he did a number of issues and covers for the title between issues 77 and 207 but here he was one again playing the role of fireman coming directly after a run by Gene Colan.

I guess they picked this issue for two reasons : firstly it has the Falcon in it and second Spider - Man guest stars as we return from John Romita´s ventures into other titles back to SPIDER - MAN. If you have read some issues from that time you know how hard Sam Wilson struggled with being the token black guy on the Avengers and standing in the shadow of Captain America which made his recent decision to take up the mantle of Captain America ( which was just nixed by Disney ) all the more illogical. 

With AMAZING SPIDER - MAN 108 and 109 we get another two part story that deals with Flash Thompson´s time in Viet Nam ( as it was called back then ) which was probably included because unlike most comics from that time it didn´t just portray the vietnamese people as the enemy. The story is too complicated to include here ( and I plan to post the story in a separate post ) but while he was a soldier Flash´s life was saved by a holy man and his daughter who died in a following bomb shelling. To bring the holy man back to life the president of the Spidey fanclub is going to be sacrificed and Spider - Man teams up with Doctor Strange to save him.

Next up is a black and white interlude : 5 pages from VAMPIRE TALES 2, the first appearance of Satana, created by Roy Thomas and John Romita.

The book ends with two Spider - Man stories, I Remember Gwen from the super - sized 30th anniversary issue AMAZING SPIDER - MAN 365 and the UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER - MAN Flashback issue in which Peter´s parents team up with Wolverine. Don´t be fooled by comic shop owners that this is a tie - in issue with the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. just because of the cover. Nevertheless this was one of the two good Spiderseries at a time when the Spiderfranchise was mostly crap ( Spider - Girl was the other one ) and John Romita´s art in this issue was just the icing on the cake. 

The usual extras include 18 pages of sketches, variant covers, color pieces and the original proposal for the Spider - Man newspaper strip so I would say that all things combined we have a really strong book for any John Romita fan or people planning to become one. Even though a lot of my personal favorites are not included here it´s nevertheless a strong selection and well worth the money for such a beautiful bound hardcover. There are a lot of things worse than this you could spend ten bucks on.

Man, it really took forever making this John Romita birthday post so it´s a good thing I already did most of the post on Russ Meyer actress Haji, who would have celebrated her 70th birthday on this very day, Yesterday. 

Nevertheless I don´t think I can finish it Today so it will probably go online in a few days. And speaking about finishing posts, before the video section there are the usual links I have to mention and I want to start with Duy Tano at THE COMICS CUBE who has John Romita in the top spot of his Top Five Most Importnat Spider - Man Artists of all Time list .

Alex Hodgson on MOVIEPILOT also has John Romita as one of 6 of the Best Spider - Man Artists ( a post without ranking ) and 2DGALLERIES has a John Romita page where you can see original comic book pages by him.

Going on Brian Cronin on COMIC BOOK RESOURCES lists the 75 Greatest Moments in Marvel History which includes the reveal of Norman Osborn as the Green Goblin in Amazing Spider - Man 39 and one about the Top Five Awkward Aunt May Moments that include Gwen Stacy giving her a scolding for always pampering Peter from Amazing Spider - Man 109.

Speaking of countdowns Jim Shelley at FLASHBACK UNIVERSE includes M - 11 in the 25 Greatest Robots in Comics. Tom Spurgeon makes some interesting observations on the first 150 issues of Amazing Spider - Man on THE COMICS REPORTER and Mark Ginocchio on CHASING AMAZING has an interesting post on the similarities between John Romita and Frank Miller who both did guest art on stories with Spider - Man and Daredevil before they would went on to leave their distinct mark on their books.

Doing research for a post about John Romita brings you always across some work by his son and this time it´s another post on COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, this time by Greg Burgas about DAREDEVIL 260 . Phil Perich at SOUTHGATE MEDIA GROUP has a great post on Spider - Man and his Amazing Marriage and last but not least if you want to brush up on your John Romita comics the good guys at SUPER MEGA MONKEY`S MARVEL COMICS CHRONOLOGY have posts on Amazing Spider - Man 105 to 109 , Captain America 135 to 138 and Fantastic Four 105 to 116 . Thanks !

Since this post is dedicated to him I want to start the video section with John Romita Sr talking about his work on the Daredevil comic book.

I have posted the videos from this documentary series a few times but as they keep disappearing here is once again Superheroes from PBS.

Among the people who would have celebrated their birthday Today is comedian Jim Belushi who really left us too soon with only 33 years.

I also want to pay tribute to Ernest Borgnine who would have celebrated his 99th birthday Today. He has played many roles like Mermaid Man on Spongebob but for me he always was Dominic Santini from Airwolf.

Today´s music video cover two more birthdays with Aaron Neville who turns 75 Today and jools Holland who reaches the age of 58. It would have included three if I somehow had managed to include Neil Diamond who also turns 75 but you can´t have everything. Anyway, here they are.

New to the blog ? Everything you need to know about TALES FROM THE KRYPTONIAN : top ten posts / more posts of interest / best of the best

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